Giants co-owner John Mara defended the NFL's cap penalties for the Cowboys, Redskins

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

PALM BEACH, Fla. – The already testy tenor of the NFC East figures to get amped this week as the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys fight $46 million in salary-cap penalties imposed by the NFL.

And, in a sense, a move sponsored by New York Giants co-owner John Mara.

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On Sunday, as NFL owners arrived at The Breakers Hotel for three days of meetings, news broke that Washington and Dallas formally filed a grievance against the league and the NFL Players Association. Mara, chairman of the NFL Management Committee, lashed back in response at the teams for violating warnings from the league about spending procedures in the 2010 "uncapped" year.

"I thought the penalties imposed were proper," Mara said. "What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they're lucky they didn't lose draft picks."

Stephen Jones, the son of Dallas owner Jerry Jones, responded to that by saying politely: "That's John's opinion. That's not my opinion."

The Cowboys were docked $10 million in salary-cap space, which will be split over the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Last week, a Washington executive was more pointed about the situation when asked about the $36 million the Redskins will be docked this year and next.

"Ask John Mara," the executive said.

That's sure to create some tense talks. Jones said the Cowboys filed the appeal and are hoping to avoid further legal action in the matter.

NFL and team sources said the league warned all teams on multiple occasions that manipulating the salary cap in 2010 would come back to haunt clubs once the salary cap came back under the new collective bargaining agreement, which was settled last summer. However, teams weren't given parameters in the 2010 offseason, and the exact rules and penalties were not worked out until early this month when the NFL and the NFLPA worked out a new salary cap for the 2012 season. As the league and the players agreed on a cap of $120.6 million, the league demanded from the union that Washington and Dallas be penalized for what they did in 2010.

At the heart of the issue are portions of the contracts for Albert Haynesworth, DeAngelo Hall and Miles Austin that appeared to be loaded into spending for the 2010 season instead of counting against the teams' salary caps in later years.

The union accepted the penalties for the teams in order to keep the salary cap at $120.6 million rather than between $113 million and $117 million it was projected to be. Either of the lower figures would have been a decrease in the cap from 2011 (when it was $120 million) and could have been problematic for NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

In other words, many people believe the league strong-armed the union into agreeing to the penalties. The union was included in the grievance, although an NFLPA source said last week that the union would welcome a challenge of the penalties because it believes the league participated in collusion in 2010.

The grievance is expected to be heard by arbitrator Stephen Burbank.

"Within the confines of the CBA, obviously we're trying to have a voice and a hearing," Jones said.

Don't expect the closed-door sessions this week to be quite so polite. There have been numerous screaming matches and bravado over the years during the owner meetings and Washington owner Dan Snyder has never been shy about voicing his opinion on league matters.

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